SUPER BOWL AUDIENCE SINKS

Sunday's Super Bowl telecast averaged 89.15 million viewers in primetime, according to preliminary figures released today (Monday) by Nielsen Media Research. The audience numbers for the NBC game coverage peaked during the 7:00 half-hour when 96.54 million tuned in, but declined steadily throughout the evening, so that by the final full half-hour at 9:30 p.m., just 84.27 million viewers remained in front of their TV sets. The numbers were well off last year's Super Bowl telecast on Fox, which averaged 97.45 million. Nielsen did not immediately provide audience figures for the 6:00 p.m. hour (not considered a part of primetime on Sunday), but they are likely to boost the size of the overall average. About 29.69 million viewers stuck around for an episode of NBC's The Office following the game. The especially funny episode is likely to boost ratings significantly for the the regular Thursday-night show, several writers predicted.

CRITICS CHEER FROM SIDELINES

Television critics for the most part cheered NBC's coverage of Sunday's Super Bowl. "Some of the show inevitably felt forced and foolish. But, overall, NBC delivered solid coverage," commented the AP's Douglas J. Rowe. Several writers observed that NBC did not try to roll out the latest technical contrivances to wow audiences. "NBC successfully went old school," wrote Michael Hiestand in USA Today. "It focused on plenty of replays, clear explanations, close-ups of players in a game where, as Al Michaels noted, the emotions 'were over the moon.'" The games' announcers, John Madden and Al Michaels, received much praise. William Houston wrote in the Toronto Globe & Mail: "For the most part, Michaels's play calling was crisp and precise. Madden kept his analysis brief and to the point. The two veterans brought plenty of passion and energy to their commentary." Ray Frager wrote in the Baltimore Sun that Madden "was definitely on his game. ... The same can always be said of his play-by-play partner, Al Michaels. ... No matter how many years the two of them have been at this, you don't ever detect any loss of enthusiasm." Newsday's Neil Best, observing that Michaels is 64 and Madden, 72, wrote, "If this was their last Big Game together, they proved again what they have for years -- that they are the comfortable pair of slippers among network football announcers. Michaels demonstrated why he is as good as it gets in play-by-play -- conveying both information and excitement in just the right balance. And Madden came through with prescient analysis." As for the 3-D ads that aired during the game, Tom Shales of the Washington Post wrote that they represented "effective, eye-popping (and eye-poking) uses of the special effect, although the glasses also lowered light coming from the screen, no matter how big the screen, by what seemed like at least 40 percent. And ow, how they hurt the bridge of the nose."

SPRINGSTEEN A WINNER AT HALFTIME

Bruce Springsteen's halftime show drew reviews that were as glowing as those for the game itself. The AP's Mitch Stacy wrote, "Springsteen, dressed all in black, came out Sunday night with the considerable challenge of packing the bombastic energy of one of his rollicking, three-hour concerts into an abbreviated Super Bowl halftime set. That turned out to be no problem." New York Times sports TV writer Richard Sandomir borrowed a superlative from the play-by-play announcers as he remarked that Springsteen was "incredible ... [giving] a terrific halftime performance that he concluded by saying, "I'm going to Disneyland." But the Baltimore Sun noted that during the telecast in Maryland, Springsteen's performance was "shrunk to share the screen with the evening lottery drawing." It was, the Sun commented, "the biggest 'arrrgghh moment' of the whole telecast." And the Associated Press noted that one of the highlights of the proceedings came when announcer Bob Costas asked Springsteen why, after turning down offers in the past to perform at the Super Bowl, he agreed to do so this year. "I have an album to promote, dummy," Springsteen replied. "It's not rocket science." Commented AP writer Douglas J. Rowe: "What refreshing honesty. Leave it to Springsteen."

NBC SETS SUPER BOWL SALES RECORD

After indicating last week that selling Super Bowl ads had been a tough slog during the current economic downturn, NBC said on the eve of the game that it had finally sold the last two ad availabilities, bringing its total gross for the game to $206 million, a record. The 30-second ads went for between $2.4 million and $3 million each. The network's total revenue for ads sold during Super Bowl programming on Sunday was $261 million, also a record.